Pub2Pub - The Story so Far...
We're driving a TVR over 20,000 miles from the northernmost pub on the planet, to the Southernmost. Here's how the first month has gone...
When you set out to drive to the far side of the world in a couple of old cars, you expect a few problems, but a full-on engine failure on the support vehicle within half an hour of getting underway? That’s a bit much.
But that’s exactly what happened to the plucky Micra K10 we’d drafted in to fulfil the support and camera duties on Pub2Pub’s European leg. A playful spot of overheating quickly built into a pretty catastrophic head gasket failure, which ended the plucky car’s adventure about 40 miles into the trip.
With less than 12 hours until our ferry to France sailed, quick action was needed, so after feeling sorry for ourselves for a grand total of about 15 minutes, a plan was formed. This plan involved a friend stepping in with their funky Honda Civic, to get the support team to Surrey, where late on Sunday night, we splashed out a total of £250 on an unseen Micra K11, and headed for Dover.
The newer Micra proved to be a far more dependable than the ill-fated K10, and so after making the ferry with minutes to spare, the TVR, and the third support vehicle of the day, pushed on to Brugge, in Belgium, for breakfast.
Pushing on was required, because we had a date with the Glym9 Garage in the Netherlands that evening – a TVR-phile hangout with everything a petrolhead could wish for in their man-cave. A Tuscan, Chimaera and Cerbera lingered in various states of restoration, while around them, work benches, slot car racers, guitar amps, a bar and every tool you could possibly need to complete your project completed a fine venue for Pub2Pub’s first evening on the continent.
From Glym9, we continued through uninspiring weather and heavy traffic, racking up the miles into the night. We had to reach Tromso, in northern Norway, less than a week after leaving the UK, which meant covering an average of nearly 500 miles per day. Day merged into night, as the miles – and countries rolled past. Belgium fell behind, before Germany was crossed in darkness, the Autobahn leading us to Denmark as a milky sunrise spread across northern Europe.
Sun swept away the fatigue, and soon, Sweden welcomed us with a glorious day, smooth tarmac and the satisfaction which surges with fast progress towards a far-off goal. Following a blissful camp amid the fjords near Gothenburg, we headed on to Norway.
And as destinations go, it’s pretty hard to top Norway. Thousands of miles of sweeping tarmac, generally sandwiched between fjord and mountain. Tunnels and bridges which redefine what’s viable in civil engineering. And some of the friendliest people you’ll meet. People like Niels, who owns the only TVR in Trondheim – a feisty little TVR Vixen, powered by a shouty little Daimler V8. As there are only 34 TVRs in the whole of Norway, meeting up with people like Niels, who maintain a uniquely remote passion for the brand, is a rare pleasure.
The further north we drove in Norway, the more the landscape etched itself into our souls. The days grew longer, merging into one another as we passed the Arctic Circle. The towns became fewer, and gained a real air of proud isolation. And as the mountains soared higher, and the fjords plunged deeper, the landscape took on dramatic, beautiful desolation which gave our journey the feel of a true adventure for the first time.
An adventure which went on for hundreds of miles, as the landscape swept past our reliable steeds, until we reached the town of Tromso, where we boarded a plane and headed north, to a place where polar bears roam, beneath the never-setting sun. The Svalbard Archipelago.
The first thing you notice when you walk off the plane is the air. It has a crisp, sharp cleanness to it which leaves you in no doubt as to the remoteness of the place, only 700 miles from the North Pole. In the winter, the polar ice cap engulfs the archipelago as permanent darkness descends, but for a few short months in summer, the islands are more alive than you’d ever expect. Seabirds soar overhead, while the seas and fjords thrive with life. And across one of those fjords, there lies a bar, which nestles in a fascinating footnote of history. Pyramiden.
Once a thriving Soviet mine, Pyramiden reached its zenith in the 1980s, when 1,200 people called this spot in the tundra home. A very visible demonstration of Communism’s ability to prevail in any environment, this unlikely mine, 700 miles from the North Pole, boasted the world’s northernmost swimming pool, grand piano and bust of Lenin. Coal flowed from within the mountain above the town, down to the quays, from where it was exported all over the world. Life was good. Nature was conquered. The Soviet ways prevailed.
But Pyramiden never turned a profit, and so when the Soviet Union collapsed, and economic realities began to prevail, it’s days were numbered. In 1998, the mine workings brought coal to the surface for the final time, the people left and Pyramiden fell silent, lost to the tundra.
Today, Pyramiden has 4 permanent residents, swelling to around 12 for a few short months each summer. Only two buildings are now functional – the settlements garage, which houses the diesel generators, and the hotel, where the residents live, eat… and drink, in the world’s most northerly bar.
Following a 90 minute boat journey past plunging cliffs and glaciers, which tumbled lethargically into the sea, Pyramiden’s rusting port facilities hoved into view. Rusting conveyors, which once loaded the ships with the settlements reisen d’etre, tower over the quay, while the town’s old power station slowly decays on the waterside.
Thanks to the dry, High Arctic climate, Pyramiden is in a remarkable state of preservation. The buildings still stand proud against the rolling hills, and the mining facilities, despite a patina of rust, are largely complete. But for a real idea of the town’s level of preservation, you have to venture inside the abandoned structures.
The town’s cinema lies in darkness, film reels scattered across the floor. Gymnastic equipment, shoes and weights lie abandoned in the sports hall. Long forgotten Soviet newspapers sit on abandoned desks, while paint flakes from the mouldering walls above. Sheet music still rests on a piano, as wan light streams onto it through the window. In the cafeteria, the kitchen which once fed over 1,000 people every day slowly deteriorates in the silence. But in the bar… in the bar, the decay ends, and Russian hospitality comes to the fore, with a cold pint of lager, which marked the start of our journey from the northernmost bar on the planet, to the southernmost.
From Pyramiden, all roads led south. South, back to Longyearbyen, from where a Boeing took us back to Tromso, where our cars awaited.
And so the long drive back to the UK – from where the TVR was to be shipped across the Atlantic to New York – began. And despite the weather erring towards the inclement, once again, Norway didn’t disappoint. We crossed the Lofoten Islands, where cliffs and seas collide to create a landscape which borders on the unbelievable, and rolled on to cross the Arctic circle for the second time in a week.
As we progressed back to the UK, we continued to meet up with some fascinating people. People like Per, who owns the northernmost TVR in the world – a 6 litre Chevy LS2-engined Griffith; just what you need when you live just south of the Arctic circle.
As we entered southern Norway, in a pattern which continued all the way back to the UK, we found ourselves playing cat-and-mouse with the weather. The mountains disappeared into scudding clouds, while snowbanks began to line the roads as the rains swept in. In other words, perfect weather for a TVR. But the TVR coped admirably, slaloming through the precipitation towards Sweden, where the sun broke through once again.
In Sweden, we decided to experience two different extremes of automotive culture. At one end of the spectrum, a car cemetery, where 150 classics from the 1940s, to the 1970s, slowly rust away in a silent, melancholy forest.
And at the other end of the spectrum, we were honoured to be hosted by the Koenigsegg factory, where we spent several hours learning about their exotic past, and their mould-breaking future.
The sun set on Pub2Pub’s time in Scandinavia as we took the ferry from Denmark to Germany, and drove through the night to Ferropolis, where we explored the massive mining engines which are preserved there.
Then it was on to the Nurburgring, where we found that a Nissan Micra, 3-up with a boot full of camping gear, is capable of smashing out a sub-13 minute lap time.
Nearing the UK, we stopped off in Aachen, to meet up with the owner of one of the higher mileage TVRs out there – a 150,000 mile Chimaera, owned by a Dutchman called Wouter, as well as a Corvette similar to the one we drove to Singapore a few years ago.
We also visited new electric car company e.GO, where we experienced their R&D facility first hand, and got to check out the pre-production prototypes of their launch model, which is all set to be delivered to their first customers next summer.
After Aachen, France beckoned. And any French road trip requires a trip to the evocative structures which line the road just outside Reims – the old Reims-Gueux F1 circuit. Preserved in a beautiful state of decay, the buildings echo the past, and to stare out across the main straight, to the silent grandstand, is to be transported back to the early ‘70s, when cars last raced in anger here.
After exploring the grandeur of Reims, we headed to Chantilly, where we met up with Porsche adventurer extraordinaire – Philippe Delaporte, and his magnificent 928, which he’s driven all across Asia and North America. Given our own Porsche-adventuring credentials – earned during the AfricanPorsche Expedition – a fantastic meeting was had by all, with tales of Porsche-based daring-do being told deep into the night.
And then, we headed back to England, where after 6,260 near-faultless miles, the TVR was dropped off at the Port of Southampton, for its voyage across the Atlantic. Pub2Pub’s European leg was complete, but 15,000 more miles across The Americas beckoned.